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Black Wednesday: In Protest of SOPA, Darken the Web

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Some of the Internet's leading websites, including Wikipedia, Reddit, Mozilla, WordPress, and BoingBoing, will go dark today to protest against the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect IP Act (PIPA). The U.S. bills have generated massive public protest over proposed provisions that could cause enormous harm to the Internet and freedom of speech. My blog will join the protest by going dark tomorrow. While there is little that Canadians can do to influence U.S. legislation, there are many reasons why I think it is important for Canadians to participate.

First, the SOPA provisions are designed to have an extra-territorial effect that manifests itself particularly strongly in Canada. As I discussed in a column last year, SOPA treats all dot-com, dot-net, and dot-org domain as domestic domain names for U.S. law purposes. Moreover, it defines "domestic Internet protocol addresses" -- the numeric strings that constitute the actual address of a website or Internet connection -- as "an Internet Protocol address for which the corresponding Internet Protocol allocation entity is located within a judicial district of the United States."

Yet IP addresses are allocated by regional organizations, not national ones. The allocation entity located in the U.S. is called the American Registry for Internet Numbers (ARIN). Its territory includes the U.S., Canada, and 20 Caribbean nations. This bill treats all IP addresses in this region as domestic for U.S. law purposes. To put this is context, every Canadian Internet provider relies on ARIN for its block of IP addresses. In fact, ARIN even allocates the block of IP addresses used by federal and provincial governments. The U.S. bill would treat them all as domestic for U.S. law purposes.

Second, Canadian businesses and websites could easily find themselves targeted by SOPA. The bill grants the U.S. "in rem" jurisdiction over any website that does not have a domestic jurisdictional connection. For those sites, the U.S. grants jurisdiction over the property of the site and opens the door to court orders requiring Internet providers to block the site and Internet search engines to stop linking to it.

Should a Canadian website owner wish to challenge the court order, U.S. law asserts itself in another way, since in order for an owner to file a challenge (described as a "counter notification"), the owner must first consent to the jurisdiction of the U.S. courts.

Third, millions of Canadians rely on the legitimate sites that are affected by the legislation. Whether creating a Wikipedia entry, posting a comment on Reddit, running a WordPress blog, participating in an open source software project, or reading a posting on BoingBoing, the lifeblood of the Internet is a direct target of SOPA. If Canadians remain silent, they may ultimately find the sites and services they rely upon silenced by this legislation.

Fourth, the U.S. intellectual property strategy has long been premised on exporting its rules to other countries, including Canada. Spain's recent anti-piracy legislation that bears similarities to SOPA is the direct result of U.S. threats of retaliation if it did not pass U.S.-backed laws. Canada has a history of similar experiences. The same forces that have lobbied for SOPA and PIPA in the United States are the primary lobbyists behind the digital lock provisions in Bill C-11 and the recent submission to the U.S. government arguing that Canada should not be admitted to the Trans Pacific Partnership negotiations until it complies with U.S. copyright demands.

Moreover, the Wikileaks cables documented relentless U.S. pressure in Canada including revelations that former Industry Minister Maxime Bernier raised the possibility of leaking the copyright bill to U.S. officials before it was to be tabled it in the House of Commons, former Industry Minister Tony Clement's director of policy Zoe Addington encouraged the U.S. to pressure Canada by elevating it on a piracy watch list, Privy Council Office official Ailish Johnson disclosed the content of ministerial mandate letters, and former RCMP national coordinator for intellectual property crime Andris Zarins advised the U.S. that the government was working on a separate intellectual property enforcement bill.

SOPA virtually guarantees that this will continue. Not only is it likely that the U.S. will begin to incorporate SOPA-like provisions into its IP demands, but SOPA makes it a matter of U.S. law to ensure that intellectual property protection is a significant component of U.S. foreign policy and grants more resources to U.S. embassies around the world to increase their involvement in foreign legal reform.

The SOPA/PIPA protest today offers people around the world the opportunity to add their voice against dangerous legislative proposals that could eventually make its way into international trade agreements and domestic lobbying pressures. For Canadians participating in the protest, consider this three-step process:

1) If you have a website or blog, turn it dark for the day with information on SOPA, Bill C-11 and why this issue matters. If not, consider adding "Stop Sopa" to your Twitter or Facebook image.

2) Write to your Member of Parliament to register one more objection to the digital lock rules in Bill C-11. The digital lock rules are the Canadian version of SOPA -- overbroad, ineffective legislation that targets technology and that is widely opposed by most stakeholders. While many are frustrated by the sense the government simply ignores these objections, the SOPA protests are attracting attention and it is important to remind Canadian politicians of the similar concerns here.

3) Speak out against the copyright provisions in the Trans Pacific Partnership, particularly the plans for copyright term extension and the digital lock rules. The government consultation is open until February 14, 2012. All it takes a single email with your name, address, and comments on the issue. The email can be sent to consultations@international.gc.ca. Alternatively, submissions can be sent by fax (613-944-3489) or mail (Trade Negotiations Consultations (TPP), Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada, Trade Policy and Negotiations Division II (TPW), Lester B. Pearson Building, 125 Sussex Drive, Ottawa, Ontario K1A 0G2).

Below are some of the most significant proposed changes to the Copyright Act that will affect users.
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